Would it really come as a big shock to you that someone who uses “F**king” as a middle name would end up causing a whole lot of controversy in the music world? Probably not. And that’s pretty much what Amanda F**king Palmer (not her legal name) did last year when she used Kickstarter to raise money for her latest album, Theatre is Evil, and its accompanying art book and tour. Actually, it’s not how she raised the money that became an issue; it’s what she did with it. Raising ten times her goal of $100,000 goal and rounding up a record-breaking $1.2 million, AFP then recruited musicians on each tour stop to join her and the Grand Theft Orchestra on stage, promising to “feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily” in lieu of cold hard cash. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with some musicians, their fans, and even some of Amanda’s fans who criticized AFP for not spreading the wealth. (Note: Musicians are no strangers to working for free and some would even argue that they lose money on gigs, so this is one of those things where it’s more about the principle than the paycheck.)
Things got pretty ugly for a while there. The New York Times posted an article detailing some of the responses and criticism aimed at AFP. Musician Steve Albini called her an idiot (and then claimed that he didn’t). A Seattle-based musicians’ union attempted to publicly shame her into paying those who performed on tour with her. And Amanda, after explaining that the Kickstarter funding covered costs for production and promotion of the album and the tour, basically said that as long as everyone is happy, what’s the big deal?
So just how did Amanda Fucking Palmer raise over $1 million in crowdsourced funds in the first place? By being awesome, obviously. Remember that song “Coin-Operated Boy” from about eight years ago, the one with the plinky child’s piano sounds and the sort of circus-y video? (See video below.) That was by The Dresden Dolls, a self-described “cabaret punk” duo consisting of Amanda and Brian Viglione. She’s also half of another theatrical “dark cabaret” music duo, Evelyn Evelyn, with Jason Webley. Oh, and she’s married to Neil Gaiman, which makes her half of yet another extremely cool partnership that could easily threaten to dethrone Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter as World’s Quirkiest (In a Totally Cool Way) Couple. Plus she’s just extremely creative and talented and is more of a musical performing artist than just a musician.
I have to confess, I’ve only listened to Theatre is Evil in its entirety once, but I’ve heard enough of it to know that it’s worth downloading. Trying to define it with the usual genre labels is like trying to staple pudding to a brick wall. There’s a bit of punk, some melodic ballads, a sprinkling of pop and rock, all melding together into an aural feast. Amanda Palmer is one of those artists who…well, you either get her or your don’t. And the only way to find out is to give her a try. The album can be purchased on her website, AmandaPalmer.net, at a “pay what you want” price ranging from $1 to $20. Check it out now, thank me later.